SPECIAL HALLOWEEN ROUNDTABLE
Editor's Note" The following roundtable was written by Suzanne Mark. For more information about Suzanne, go to her website at www.TheMARKofExcellence.net, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Halloween and haunting are big in the retail business, second only to Christmas. It’s not too shabby in the RV park and campground industry, either. All told, the spooky season has an economic impact of $4-6 billion, according to the consumer research firm Crosswalk.
The Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index indicates that Halloween seems to cheer consumers. “One of the spookiest parts of Halloween this year may be the amount people plan to spend on their celebrations,” says the National Retail Federation. They estimate an average of $56.31 per person will be spent on the holiday celebration. Even an estimated 7.4 million pets will be donning costumes this year. The question: Is your park getting the tricks or the treats of all this loot?’
Lake Rudolph Campground in Santa Claus, Ind., certainly will be raking leaves and the money with seven weekends devoted to the Haunted theme. They are already full for six of the weekends with over 200 campsites and as many rental units. Another somewhat northern park which has been doing seven weekends for over a decade is the KOA in Monroe, Mich. Then there’s Hidden Valley Campground, Milton, Wis., which celebrates for five weeks with 80% of reservations made with at least one night’s deposit for the 2011 season!
Activities can range from haunted hayrides, campfire ghost stories, holiday crafts, pumpkin carving or painting, M U M M Y or T R E A T Bingo, site decorating, costume parade for adults, children and pets as well as trick or treating from site to site.
There are more elaborate attractions in parks like Normandy Farms in Foxboro, Mass., and Hidden Valley who have permanent dedicated haunted barns. Jim Kersten, owner of Hidden Valley, charges $1 per person for campers to walk through the barn. With 350 to 400 campers times five weekends, you do the math and that’s just the barn revenue not campsites or store. In fact his candy sales are through the roof during the season.
Not all Halloween programs have to be scary or ghoulish. Gina and Mike Lenhard, owners of Jellystone Park in North Hudson, N.Y., deliberately soften their approach to the festivities. Because they have so many families with young children, they do a lighted walk thru of their Haunted Barn with no scary characters but with lots of blow up animations. They tour the children through in small groups and show them how the features work. They also do pumpkin painting rather than pumpkin carving.
There are lots of ways you can adapt the theme to your customer base. Meanwhile, back at Hidden Valley, the tradition there is for adults as well as children to trick or treat. The costumed adults may be greeted with Jell-O shots, punch, hot beverages or the more traditional sweet fare.
Karen Anesi, owner of Lock 30-The Woodlands, Lisbon, Ohio, just started a small Halloween celebration last year. This year they’ve upgraded to two weekends. “I just purchased a motion activated, scary butler with a "silver tray" featuring a red-eyed skull,” he said. “The talking butler is really cute. It was expensive, but ought to work better than a sign!!”
The talking butler already has been on duty greeting Labor Day guests, while marketing the coming Halloween events. What an interesting staffing concept. Karen also offered a 10% discount for anyone booking their Halloween weekend reservation while they were in the park for Labor Day.
Now, let me ask you this: What if you really don’t have staff; just how big do you have to make the party?
Sherri and Craig Weber, owners of Geneseo Campground, Geneseo, Ill., actually started about 10 years ago because campers asked for activities. The first year on a weekend that was normally dead, they added only themed coloring for kids, a costume parade, site decorating and, as a result, added 40 reservations to the weekend.
They now piggyback their program and tie it to “Bootiful Saturday” sponsored by the local chamber of commerce and the various merchants, one of whom has an actual haunted dungeon in the store basement. The campground then supports the local community activities and only has to provide minimal supporting activities. So activities can be as complex as a themed haunted hayride, hike or even boat ride or as plain as a coloring contest.
But what if you need staff and don’t normally have them that time of year?
Well, there are usually plenty of teens who would be able to work weekends. There are also plenty of workampers who may have finished a summer assignment and are wandering around until it’s snowbird season. Then there are local groups that might help out by being given a donation.
At Hidden Valley, the local FFA (Future Farmers of America) operate the haunted barn for free during the five camping weekends. On the next two weekends the barn is open to the public and the FFA takes all the proceeds on those weekends. (P.S. – the teens love doing it! It beats working at McDonald’s).
But what if we’re closed most of October?
Well, do it in July or August (although there is a disadvantage doing it in hot weather, and parading around in a monkey suit or a devils cape, etc., etc. may discourage some folks. Certainly the revelers who come the first of seven weekends, however, have just as much fun in September as the campers who come the end of October.
A few other points to consider;
• Parks where site-decorating contests are a big deal find that they have substantial mid-week bookings. Several years ago I was in line on a Thursday before a Halloween weekend at the Jellystone Park in Hagerstown, Md. The two gentlemen ahead of me were discussing that that when they got to the register they were going to book their weekend next year starting on Wednesday as they needed more than two days to get their site decorated. It is well known that some folks spend thousands of dollars in decorations.
• Start small to test the waters. Check out the websites of the mentioned parks for more ideas. Add to your decorations with clearance items from this year.
• Stock your store with plenty of candy, costume accessories, decorating lights and paraphernalia.
• Costume your staff as well as your mascot. (Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer will be a wizard this year.)
• If you really don’t want to do activities in the park, piggyback on some nearby attraction and market them. Bud Styer, owner of Smokey Hollow Campground in Lodi, Wis., has frequently played off a huge corn maze at a nearby farm.
• Don’t think of Halloween as just a kid’s holiday or only on Oct. 31st. Even snowbird parks should be including it in their themed event schedule, but publicize it in advance so folks can bring their best party attire as well as costumes for their pets.
• Consider going to one of the national trade shows listed below next year. Make it a mini-vacation that gives you a tax deduction and gather ideas and new resources.
March 10- Halloween Costume & Party Show, Americas Center & Dome, St. Louis
March 28-30- Las Vegas Halloween Show, Rio Hotel
• You may also want to cruise through these “surfing and resource suggestions”: